Organisations that attempt a change programme after a previous difficult and painful change programme face an increased and significant risk of failure during the next programme. This, a new study shows, is down to employees of the organisation effectively being mentally scarred by the last attempt at organisational change. Difficult and painful change programmes significantly increase the risk of internal organisational change cynicism and fatigue.
Change Programmes and Psychological Contracts
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Every member of an organisation will have expectations from their association with it. Even those who are largely only doing their job just for the money will have expectations of the organisation beyond just their pay. For example, they may expect to be treated fairly, to work, be managed and communicated with in certain ways. As people gain experience with an organisation these expectations form a ‘psychological contract’ – an unwritten set of rules or expectations that build up over time, that the people in the organisation anticipate will continue.
This study and others are showing that organisational change can often tear up the psychological contract creating a significant negative emotional response to the change in question. This can lead to increased turnover intentions (intentions to leave) and resistance to the change process. The researchers add “Findings also provided support for our arguments that psychological contract violation would predict turnover intentions and, ultimately, employee turnover.”
What this can mean, if not handled sympathetically, is that the organisation either loses the good staff just at a time when it needs to retain them, or turns supportive pro-active staff into resistors of change.
Basins of Poor Morale
To avoid basins of low morale and resistance the authors recommend: “HR managers may explicitly and openly discuss the possible positive outcomes from change efforts or work with work groups to identify potential benefits that may emerge from proposed changes. Managers and change agents may work collaboratively with employees to identify ways in which any potential losses resulting from change can be avoided or mitigated.”
The paper also recommends that acts of contrition by the senior management to affected groups could well be a surprising and effective answer – to meet with them, admit past mistakes, apologise and then move on has been shown to be effective.
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